By: Steve Balestrieri
With the preseason over, the New England Patriots are practicing this week in preparation for their season opener against the Buffalo Bills. Here at PatFans.com we’ll break down the game later in the week and give a close look at the matchups.
But today we’ll take a quick look at the Buffalo Bills, who have gone into the preseason essentially starting over with a new coaching staff, a new starting quarterback but facing an old problem…getting into the post-season.
The Patriots return to Buffalo for the 2013 season opener on Sunday. (FILE:USPresswire)
New Coach Takes Over- The Bills made an interesting choice in hiring head coach Doug Marrone this past off-season. Marrone came from Syracuse University where he coached the Orange for the past four years.
Prior to that, Marrone spent seven years in the NFL, four as the Jets offensive line coach and three as the offensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints. In his three years directing the offense, (2006-2008) the Saints offense ranked 1st, 4th and 1st again.
Injuries Hammering the Bills-The Bills are already suffering from a number of injuries to key players in 2013. QB Kevin Kolb suffered another concussion, this one a season ending severe on and it may force him into retirement.
Rookie QB E.J. Manuel suffered a knee injury (meniscus) and had minor surgery a few weeks ago. He still has an outside shot at starting in Week 1.
Stephon Gillmore, the Bills top cornerback broke his wrist and will be out for 6-8 weeks. Safety Jarius Byrd is dealing with foot woes and is questionable to play against the Patriots.
The Bills signed G Doug Legursky as a FA this off-season, but he suffered what was being termed a major knee injury, but the team kept him on the 53 man roster which is a great sign that he will be able to return at some point.
Bills Going With Two Rookie QBs-The team is entering 2013 with two rookie QBs on the active roster with Thad Lewis, acquired from the Lions on their practice squad. Regardless of how talented they are, Manuel and fellow rookie, Jeff Tuel face a lot of growing pains as they learn the job on the field.
Tuel, the UDFA QB from Washington State is projected to start if Manuel isn’t ready to go this week. If so, he’d be the first UDFA QB to start the season since 1960. With two rookie QBs, the Bills may opt to play it safe and rely on the running game of C.J. Spiller. Spiller it should be noted is back in camp and should be ready to go after having leaving for a family issue.
The plan is for the Bills to run an up-tempo offense and utilize the talents of Stevie Johnson in the vertical passing game. There is the big play potential for the offense, but it will depend upon the development of their young QBs.
Secondary Depth A Concern-The Bills are missing their top cornerback(Gilmore) and safety (Byrd) right now the results weren’t encouraging against the Lions in the preseason finale. The backups were torched repeatedly and if not for some errant throws by the Lions QBs, it could have been worse.
An interesting footnote to this is that the Bills corners thus far have struggled with press coverage and haven’t been getting a consistent jam at the line of scrimmage. With WR Aaron Dobson, having issues breaking the jam at the line, this will bear watching. If the Patriots WRs get free releases, it keeps the timing in place and will put a lot of pressure on the Bills pass rush.
Pettine Changes Scheme On Defense-The Bills have brought in former Jets Defensive Coordinator Rich Pettine to hold the same position in Buffalo. Pettine has changed the Bills defense from a conservative read and react unit to an attacking, pressure based scheme reminiscent of the unit with the Jets.
The players and fans are excited and with just cause, Buffalo allowed 27.2 points per game in 2012 and those numbers will have to change dramatically for the team to improve its standing in the AFC East. Much more is expected from Mario Williams in his second season in Buffalo, he dealt with injuries and a substandard season for him in 2012.
But questions remain in the run defense and with the injuries in the secondary; Pettine will be forced to test the depth of his unit, not one of its strengths. This will bear watching, especially early in the season.